February 28, 2010

How to Read Kafka's Non-Fiction

Let's say you've already read all of Kafka's short stories, and the three novels, and all the parables, and you're still interested in reading more, how should you proceed? Or let's say you haven't read everything, but you'd like to get an idea of who Kafka was from his personal writings, rather than his many (many) biographies, which book should you turn to?

First, let's put things in order. As far as I am aware, these are the books which collect Kafka's non-fiction:
(The last two volumes might be a little difficult to find)


Since almost all of these have been meticulously dated, it's pretty simple to read them in order, though constantly going from one book to another might be a little tiring, so I suggest reading them by year (e.g. diaries from 1910, followed by letters from 1910, followed by diaries from 1911, et cetera; years with less writing can be condensed). I would, however, suggest a few exceptions to this strict chronological order - Kafka's letter to his father should be read first, before anything else, and his series of letters to Felice and Milena should not be broken up, but read complete (Felice around 1912, Milena around 1924), as they form complete, coherent, and fascinating narratives on their own. I would probably also read The Blue Octavo Notebooks all together, since they were deliberately set apart from the diaries by Kafka. In case you still want to throw a biography into the mix, I suggest Max Brod's, which may be a bit dated, but still indispensable. To sum it all up, here is how I would arrange the reading list:
  1. Letter to His Father
  2. Biography – Chapter I
  3. Letters to Family, Friends, and Editors – 1902-1904
  4. Biography – Chapter II
  5. Letters to Family, Friends, and Editors – 1905-1909
  6. Biography – Chapter III
  7. Diaries – 1910
  8. Letters to Family, Friends, and Editors – 1910
  9. Biography – Chapter IV
  10. Diaries – 1911
  11. Letters to Family, Friends, and Editors – 1911
  12. Biography – Chapter V
  13. Biography – Chapter VI
  14. Biography – Chapter VII
  15. Biography – Chapter VIII
  16. Letters to Ottla and the Family – 1909-1912
  17. Letters to Felice
  18. Diaries – travel diaries
  19. Diaries – 1912-1917
  20. Letters to Family, Friends, and Editors – 1912-1917
  21. Letters to Ottla and the Family – 1913-1918
  22. Letters to Family, Friends, and Editors – 1918
  23. The Blue Octavo Notebooks
  24. Diaries – 1919-1923
  25. Letters to Family, Friends, and Editors – 1919-1923
  26. Letters to Ottla and the Family – 1919-1924
  27. Letters to Milena
  28. Letters to Family, Friends, and Editors – 1924 + Conversation Slips
(All said I think it comes to about 2,000 pages, with about 250 more for the biography)

A few more tips:
  • If you're going for extra credit, you can weave in The Office Writings, which includes some of Kafka's professional papers written between 1908 - 1917.
  • If you're interested in this method of reading Kafka, but would like the whole thing to be much shorter and less complicated, you can try to track down I Am a Memory Come Alive, a chronological selection of Franz Kafka's autobiographical writings edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, clocking in at a mere 250 pages.
  • If you're interested in my ramblings about the need for a definitive edition of Kafka's collected work, check out this old post.
  • If you don't know anything about Kafka, read the short stories first, then the novels; if you feel lost or confused, read Introducing Kafka by David Zane Mairowitz and Robert Crumb; if you smell bad, take a shower.

February 24, 2010

Most Overused Poems in Literature

First of all, let me make it clear that I'm not against stealing good lines from poetry or verse and reusing them in literature as titles, especially if this is done meaningfully (e.g. The Sound and the Fury or Pale Fire). However, certain poems have been so overused it seems kind of lazy to go back to them and dredge up another line; there's no shortage of decent poetry. Constantly going back to the same works basically proves that the writer didn't read Byron or Coleridge extensively, but was probably just assigned one or two of their famous works in an introductory English Lit. class as an undergrad, and clung to them ever since.

Anyway, here is my list of most overused poems, it's mostly off the top of my head, done with little research, and limited to 10, so I'm bound to miss a few, you can add them in the comments if you like.
  1. All of Shakespeare
  2. To His Coy Mistress - Andrew Marvell
  3. Meditation XVII - John Donne
  4. The Tyger - William Blake
  5. She Walks in Beauty - Lord Byron
  6. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  7. Jabberwocky - Lewis Carroll
  8. The Second Coming - William Butler Yeats
  9. The Waste Land - T.S. Eliot
  10. Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night - Dylan Thomas
(I focused on direct quotes rather than allusions, hence the lack of texts like The Odyssey and The Divine Comedy.)

February 23, 2010

The News on Tues - Expected Rejection and Title Selection

  • Since last Tuesday my posts on 2log have been mostly silly.
  • I started a new photo-blog, though it's written in Hebrew and focused on biking in Tel Aviv, I think you might still find it interesting in parts.
  • I read Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, a beautifully and cleverly executed graphic novel.
  • I submitted my novel to four (!) Israeli publishing houses and expect to start getting rejections in a couple of months.
In non-me-related news:

  • The Rumpus has a piece on choosing a good title for your book, inluding an amusing list of titles to avoid (e.g. The Lofty Abstraction, a.k.a. the Bad Kundera - “The Lonely Shackles of Mortality,” or The It-Doesn’t-Get-Any-Cuter-Than-This - “Runaway Grandma”).
  • Lee Ellis from The New Yorker comments on the Helene Hegemann affair.
  • The Guardian asked a lot of writers to list their 10 Dos and Don'ts of writing, and got very long, interesting, and often contradictory responses (published in two parts). Don't read it all at once, it'll give you a headache, but do try to read everything, even the stuff by the writers you don't like or think much of. You can always choose the tactics that you think might be right for you, discover something that appeals to you, or be comforted by the shared struggle and insecurity. Macy Halford of The New Yorker also commented on the matter.
And hot off the presses, I present this Youtube video:

February 22, 2010

How to Read The Sound and the Fury - Part I

I've often thought there should be some kind of website that offers advice for readers, kind of like a literary "Ask Ann Landers," where they could write in and ask questions like: "Should I read Beckett's essay on Proust before or after I read Proust's writing?" or "I want to read Jame Joyce's Ulysses, HELP!" I'm sure there are a lot of reading guides available online, but I think most of them are intended for students who want to know what a work is about without really having to read it (CliffNotes/SparkNotes and all that Jazz) or summaries that tend to either spoil whatever surprises are lurking in the text, or already inject their own interpretation of the material into it.

It is with this thought in mind that I am going to write about my experience of reading William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. I'm not a scholar, I have not read a lot of Faulkner, and I'm certainly no Ann Landers, but I think that's all probably for the better since it would allow me to focus on the simple "What the hell is going on here?" aspects of the book, rather than try to voice some clever opinion on it. In this post I'll focus on the first part, which is the only one I've finished so far.

First, there are a few things it helps to know before you start reading (These do not, in my opinion, constitute spoilers):
  1. The first section (April Seventh, 1928) is narrated by Benjy, who is mentally retarded and does not have a clear grasp of time. Ergo, the narrative jumps around a lot between the present and past.
  2. Faulkner uses italics for a reason, pay attention to them.
  3. There are two Jasons and two Quentins, one of which is a girl. These are separate people, this is not a sex change story.
I think it helps to have a little cuecard where you can draw out the family tree and/or the relationships between the characters. I often do this when I'm reading; it can be helpful, and I also think it looks kind of nice (when I was reading Appointment in Samarra I drew a map of Lantenengo Street, where a lot of the main characters live).

With that in mind, I think the first section can be fairly readable, albeit a tad exasperating (at some point you might ask yourself, "does simply everything make Benjy cry?" to which the answer is, emphatically, "yes"). If you're a little confused as to when the action is actually happening, a good way to keep track (semi-spoiler alert) is to pay attention to which one of the black servants is taking care of Benjy - Versh is the earliest, followed by T.P., and Luster is in the "present" (i.e. 1928). If you're not sure what is actually going on, this summary from SparkNotes will clue you in, with a relatively small amount of conjecture and interpretation (just read the top half, not the analysis).

That's it for now, I'll write my thoughts about part II next week.

February 16, 2010

The News on Tues - Golden Guides, Orwell Abides

I've settled on Tuesday as the day to post links but I'm still not sure what to call these recurring posts (Tuesday is Newsday? In the News on the Tues? Something that doesn't rhyme? let me know if you have any ideas). Anyway, on with the news:
  • Amazon finally restored Macmillan titles to their website last week (about a week after they said they had), which has finally allowed me to purchase The Savage Detectives (it was a toss-up between that and 2666, but in the end I decided to go with the "easier" one. Plus, 2666 might not have been published in full as a possible sixth section has been discovered).
  • On 2log, I posted a little piece about the Golden Guides I collected as a kid.
In non-me-related news:

February 14, 2010

Rant Control

I've recently realized that a good deal of my fiction includes scenes of characters going on angry rants. I wonder if this is too much of a crutch, as it is a very easy way to show what the character thinks and feels, without using heavy exposition.

On the other hand, these are often the most exciting, amusing, or enlightening parts of the narrative; I don't think I could write a story where everyone is calm and stoic and super-subtle, I'll leave that to Henry James.

In fact, some of my favorite books include rants - The Brothers Karamazov, Invisible Man, Under the Volcano, Miss Lonelyhearts, Past Continuous - and some stories like Notes from Underground and "Diary of a Madman" could be said to be composed almost entirely of angry rants.

Plus, planning and writing them is so damn much fun. I guess I'll rant on.

February 9, 2010

Tuesday = Newsday (?)

Is Tuesday a good day for regular updates? I don't know if it has anything going for it other than the rhyme, but I guess that's more than the other days of the week. Okay, enough of this, let's just see what's going on.
  • I added a new entry on Cycloped, after a long break. I think it's been more than a month since the previous one, I'll try to add new ones more regularly now that I'm free of the huge novel translation project.
  • On 2log, I wrote a very brief post about Facebook, and a significantly longer post listing some terrible books that have been published recently.
  • I wanted to create a catalogue of my book collection on Library Thing, but apparently, if you want to add more than 200 books you have to pay! What the hell? I don't pay for things online! I guess I'll stick with the Google Books My Library feature (though it has issues too, and mostly it's just not fun).
  • I thought of starting a writing workshop in Israel (for people writing English fiction) on Meetup, but that costs money too! What is wrong with the internet lately? 
In non-me-related news:
  • Rick Moody takes on the Kindle (in short - he's mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore).
  • The New Yorker's Ian Crouch wrote a short piece about an interesting theatrical adaptation/interpretation of The Great Gatsby (he also mentions the upcoming Baz Luhrmann film adaptation, the very thought of which makes my skin crawl).
  • The New Republic's William Deresiewicz wrote at length about Nabokov's long-awaited posthumous The Original Of Laura (in short - don't try to pass off this collection of notes as a complete book, and why is it so damn expensive?).
  • And in case you haven't heard, Dante's Inferno is now a video game. ("...images of Virgil spout lines from the poem at you once in a while...There is even a giant Cleopatra demon who spurts knife-wielding unbaptized children out of her nipples.")
Since there's no way to top that last line, I'll end here.

February 6, 2010

Oh, how many queries come to nothing, and yet one must keep sending.

It's true, I've been rejected by many literary agents (about 30, I believe), and many literary journals (about 45 or so), but I keep submitting (in more than one sense of the word); there's just no other option.

So what do I have to do in the next few days?
  1. Finish reviewing my manuscript (of novel translated into Hebrew), fix whatever grammatical errors / typos I find, print it out, attach query letter, and submit it to the publishing house just down the street from my apartment (one of the potentially good things about writing in Israel - you can submit directly to the publishing houses, in person, no less. Hooray for saving stamps!)
  2. Finish translating a short story into Hebrew and submit it to a major contest.
  3. Sunday - Write your Ass Off Day - get in 8 hours of writing.
  4. Start looking for new (American) agents whom I had not yet queried (and might be interested in a serious literary novel of Israel/Palestine).
Okay, that's a lot, so why am I wasting time on this post? Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

P.S. This post's title is a variation on the last line of Franz Kafka's short story "The Married Couple," an unlikely source of inspiration, but a rather reliable one for me.

February 4, 2010

Cover Story

For those of you wondering about the awesome animated GIF to the right, I made it using MakeAGif, and it incorporates letters from the following book covers:

Now you can go make your own.

Catching Up is Hard To Do

As stated in my previous post, I plan to provide links on this blog to whatever else I’ve been doing on the internet. This is somewhat of a problem for the first list of links on this new blog – how far back am I supposed to go?
I guess since we’re in early February I can limit myself to whatever has been going on this year, which actually isn’t that much.

On 2log I posted a little bit about my experiences in Tel Aviv (regarding fences, playgrounds, and Cellphones) and wrote bits about typos, movie mash-ups, The WhoObama's State of the Union address, and at least two pieces making fun of Jonathan Safran Foer.

For you Hebrew readers, I had a guest post on Yoav Lerman's Tel Aviv blog, railing against the city's pro-car/anti-pedestrian policies, as proven by the erasure of a much-needed crosswalk.

In other news:

This coming Sunday I'm participating in a Write Your Ass Off Day, which even has an interactive map if you want to join in the "fun". This actually came at a very good time for me since I had just finished a pretty huge project (translating my novel into Hebrew) and it might help me avoid the period of inactivity that often comes between the end of one project and the beginning of the next.

A Brief Survey of My Blogging Past and Future

Since I first started blogging, around mid-2006, I’ve had a lot of different blogs – some were successful, some were unread, some ran for years, and some only lasted a few weeks. Thus, it is without making any declarations or promises that I begin this new blog, not yet knowing whether it will last, or what shape it might take over time. Intuitively, I might say that this would be my personal blog, where I would write about things that happen to me, or interest me, and perhaps no one else, as well as links to things that I find interesting. The name of the blog should provide a hint regarding my interests – writing, reading, and books, but I’m certain other topics will come up as well.
 I’ll try no to intrude into areas already covered by my other blogs, and I’ll be sure to post links to whatever other online shenanigans I’m involved in. I guess this might be as good a place as any to provide a short list of these -

Current blogs:

2log - a competitive joint blog - "The 2loggers are young creative leaders thrust into blogging battle against each other. Commenters add or take away points depending on how much they like the posts. Each week, the 2logger with the most points wins." – I usually post humorous pieces relating to current events.

Cycloped - a satirical encyclopedia.

Defunct, but still available, blogs:

Ugbun - a webcomic, ran from 2007 to 2009.

So Often Once So Loud - a predecessor of sorts to this blog, ran in 2009, more focused on reviews and the publishing industry (I lost interest in it once it failed to immediately earn me a position on the NY Times Book Review).

WHFR - I used to DJ at this wonderful radio station and a bunch of my shows are still archived there.

Foreign language blogs:

המתרגם - "The Translator" - a blog where I post my English to Hebrew translations of short stories and novel excerpts.

My Website:

My Website is outdated and in pitiful condition, but maybe providing a link for it here would force me to fix it up a bit. Probably not.

That's it for now, wish me luck.